The potential of young children to develop good fundamental movement skills is being undermined by early overfeeding of babies.
The fundamental movement skills (physical literacy) that underpin all human movements are challenged by babies being born heavier than previous generations and in first 9 months of life a sociological shift has led to an over protective and over caring tendency of parents to feel the need to feed to comfort, reassure and feel they are caring for baby, that is exacerbating this issue.
Our ancestry would not have been one of an abundance of food and the human body can function optimally on much less food fuel than we think. The current trends in adult and child obesity are based around this fundamental principle that food in western societies is readily available and we tend to over consume.
Over feeding babies is a genuine issue to be addressed. Some of this change is reflected in larger babies developing in the womb so babies in many cases emerge much heavier than their predecessors because of the nature and types of foods available to their mother.
What impact does this increased baby body weight have on physical skill development? As a physical educator it is noticeable how many pupils arriving at secondary school age struggle with strength and flexibility.
When performing sporting movements their control of movements is often quite weak and breaks down quickly with fatigue. If you try to rationalise why this is it is easy to blame education in primary and nursery schools, but it is logical to look even earlier than this.
The average birth weight in our society has increased over the past 40 years and consequently babies leave the womb heavier and this weight has to be managed by baby. Increases in maternal anthropometry, reduced cigarette smoking, and changes in sociodemographic factors have led to an increase in the weight of infants born at or after term. (J Pediatr 2002;141:538-42).
This extra weight needs greater physical strength and flexibility to manoeuvre and control. The impact on the babies movement is considerable and they need to be stronger when they start their life than their predecessors if they are going to comfortably manage and move this extra weight.
Like horses in a handicap race they all start having to carry a greater or lesser burden and those with greater weight to shift need greater strength and flexibility than those lighter than them to manage their earliest movements. This is very hard to ever make back up unless they are encouraged to be extremely physically active.
We often gauge how quickly our little one is ‘able to walk’ as a badge of honour, whereas in physical development terms prolonging crawling is potentially beneficial to the upper body strength development and postural control. In our busy life’s we tend to carry baby with us from room to room to speed up the process thus negating the benefits of these prolonged crawling events.
The use of items that are deemed to be supporting baby’s walking development such as baby walkers and walking wings keep baby safe but they restrict the exploratory boundaries.
The use of baby walkers do the job of baby’s stabilising musculature and postural muscles.
This limits the development of our bodies proprioception and slows the development of neuromuscular control. Whilst we may get baby up and walking quicker, they will not have been challenged to develop the synergist and fixator muscles essential for controlled movements.
Once again the key to functional movement development is to encourage baby to manoeuvre themselves as much as possible in the early years so they challenge their physical systems to adapt and develop.
Ergogenic design of chairs, baby carriers and baby seats make life easier for all but don’t necessarily enhance our stability and strength. This is true throughout our life unless we actively engage in exercise or activities that stimulate our CNS and the muscles associated with posture and control of movement.
Therefore it is imperative that we encourage our children from the outset to be physically active and develop the strength and flexibility required to learn to control their body weight from birth to adulthood.
Martin Langston (Physical Education Teacher)